Up to that point, I was mostly into Richard Brautigan and Jack Keroauc, and then, later, dudes like Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski; standard college-age reading material. I hadn't intended to spend a week doing nothing but reading IJ; certainly I was planning on attending my classes, and eating meals at regular intervals, and, well, interfacing with other people and doing the things I normally did. And I only picked it up in the first place because of a review I read in Newsweek, of all places. But I was pretty much transfixed from the first sentence, and when I finished the book for the first time, I immediately started to re-read it, and when I finished it the second time, I returned to the world feeling... changed.
I've always been a better writer in my head than on the page, which is something that's frustrated me to no end, and what struck me so deeply with Infinite Jest is that I felt - and I still feel this way - that if I knew how to write the way I feel like I could, I would have written IJ. Certainly a lot of people find his writing gimmicky and obtuse and self-indulgent and embracing the worst qualities of post-modernism; that's their right. Certainly IJ is the best and most notable example of all of these qualities. And if you are the sort of reader who totally loves it when an author just goes for it, then you can understand why someone like me would fall so deeply under IJ's spell. And for all the showmanship and self-aware razzle-dazzle, IJ is devestatingly personal and emotional and - most importantly - real.
And so while I found the rest of DFW's work somewhat disappointing in comparison, I still readily ate it up, and when I wasn't reading his books, I was busy reading all the stuff that influenced him - and then reading all the stuff influenced by him. Which adds up to quite a lot. I'd say about 90% of the fiction I've chosen to read in the last 12 years can be traced back to my week with Infinite Jest, and wanting to recapture the feelings I had when I read that book.
The world is a difficult place right now, and the loss of a talent such as DFW's only makes it more so. RIP.